In early April of last year, I was scrolling through social media and saw somebody my age lamenting, “I’m wasting the best years of my life in this pandemic!”
I rolled my eyes. "It’s been two weeks," I thought to myself. At that point, I saw an end to the pandemic in the near future and dismissed the social media sentiment as short-sighted and selfish.
But things have changed since then. It has been almost a full year since the world went into lockdown. While some people are flouting public health guidelines and common sense to gather in large groups, go to parties and rush Franklin Street unmasked, a lot of people are still diligently washing their hands, masking up and staying home as much as possible.
And almost 11 months after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the exhaustion of it all is reaching its peak.
Three weeks ago, journalist Tanzina Vega tweeted about the pandemic burnout she is experiencing, naming the buildup of constant stress we have been faced with since last March the “pandemic wall.”
Burnout, the psychological symptom that often follows chronic stress, was inevitable. We have been in fight-or-flight mode since March, and nearly everyone I know is feeling more tired, helpless and pessimistic than ever before.
In May, my friends and I would excitedly chat on the phone about the trips we were going to take, the movies we were going to see and the restaurants we were going to visit “after this pandemic is over.”
Since then, we have lost family members to COVID-19. We are largely isolated from all of our close and casual friends. Seniors are graduating amid unprecedented uncertainty about the future. And, despite all of this, we are expected to be just as productive as we were pre-pandemic.
When my best friends and I meet for our biweekly Zoom call, I can see their worry lines through the pixelated screens. When we sigh out, “How are you?” the limp smile that accompanies the faint response — “Oh, you know… hanging in there,” — is disheartening to see.
Even when we crack jokes, there is always an undercurrent of worry running through our laughter. Now, when we talk about what we will do “after the pandemic,” it sounds like something we are saying by rote, but barely believe.
“Talk to you later. Love you. We’ll meet after the pandemic.”
This is not merely fatigue. “Fatigue is being tired of wearing a mask etc.,” Vega wrote on Twitter. “Burnout means not seeing the end of it and not being able to function at optimal capacity.”
The end is difficult to see. I haven’t hugged my friends since March. The perverse, smug sense of superiority that came with knowing I was helping curb community spread by staying home has withered. It has been replaced with a faint weariness that people are still partying, wearing their masks under their noses and going to the Outer Banks with their gal pals. I couldn’t follow “Where y’all goin?” on Instagram; it just made me sad.
I have hit the pandemic wall hard, face-first and fallen down. For everyone who is feeling the same way, remember: it is perfectly OK not to be OK right now. Take care of yourself, and sit on the ground for a while.
Eventually, I hope, we will be able to dust ourselves off, stand up and walk through that wall.
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